SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Sheffield Steelers suffered back-to-back losses over the weekend courtesy of the rejuvenated Cardiff Devils.
The two teams first locked horns on Saturday in Elite League action at the Motorpoint Arena, with the resurgent Devils taking home the two points with an impressive 3-2 victory.
Both teams started strongly in an evenly contested first period. The Steelers were unlucky not to go ahead through former Devil Jonathan Phillips who’s shot found the post in the third minute.
The hosts however, were to break the deadlock first with Great Britain international Ashley Tait on hand to re-direct a Rod Sarich slapshot in front of goal to make it 1-0 at 06:32.
Both teams’ agitators Tylor Michel and Devin DiDiomete of Sheffield and Cardiff (respectively) renewed their acquaintances once again exchanging sly digs, with the latter of the two players going to the box for a tripping minor penalty.
Just ten seconds into the resulting powerplay Sheffield doubled their advantage courtesy of former NHL defenceman Drew Fata who one timed from the slot low past Devils goaltender Phil Osaer to make it 2-0 at 10:22.
Both teams pressed, and after a turnover in the Steelers zone, the Devils brought the game to within a goal when Max Birbraer found himself unmarked at the back post for a one timer, after a neat pass from linemate Stuart MacRae at 18:25.
The Steelers had their traditional second period slump, and were almost made to pay for it when Birbraer found himself on a breakaway only to be denied by Steelers netminder John DeCaro in the 28th minute.
At the midway point of the game, both teams shared a host of chances, only to be kept at bay by the impressive American netminding duo of Phil Osaer and John DeCaro.
At 31:53 the Steelers came close to scoring after a goalmouth scramble with NHL’er on hiatus Tom Sestito coming agonisingly close to restoring the two goal lead.
No scoring followed in the second period, ensuring the Steelers were the happier of the two teams going into the period break with their slender advantage.
Less than five minutes into the final period the Devils restored parity courtesy of the impressive Mac Faulkner. The 29-year-old Canadian was on hand at the back post to fire home, after a miss hit shit from defenceman Tyson Marsh to make it 2-2 at 44:59.
Less than three minutes later NHL lockout victim and Twitter star Paul Bissonnette came close, only to be denied by a great John DeCaro save after a 2-on-1 chance.
The game had the makings of Overtime written all over it, until Mac Faulkner fired home from the left wing for his 22nd goal of the season, after an impressive behind the back pass from Bissonnette, much to the delight of the travelling Devils supporters, making it 3-2 at 55:33.
Despite a late fight back from the Steelers after a timeout, the Devils hung on and took the two points after a hard fought and impressive road win.
The Steelers travelled to the Welsh Capital 24 hours later in Challenge Cup action, hoping to avenge their previous nights’ defeat.
The game had to be settled with penalty shots, in which the Devils came away 7-6 winners in a high scoring affair with Chris Blight netting the decisive goal.
The Steelers like the previous night took the lead, this time through veteran Jeff Legue, who tapped home back post after an Ashley Tait goalmouth pass on the powerplay at 06:11.
The hosts were soon on level terms at 13:17 with Ben Davies re-directing a Kenton Smith shot from the point to make it 1-1.
Both teams came out raring to go for the second period, but it was the visitors who would score next shorthanded, with Shawn Limpright finishing nicely past Osaer on a breakaway at 22:00 to make it 2-1.
The Devils soon restored parity at 48:25 with Captain Stuart MacRae tapping home from close range after a goalmouth scramble. Steelers’ defenceman Matt Stephenson was adamant that netminder John DeCaro had the puck covered up.
Stephenson remonstrated his frustrations at referee Dean Smith, earning him a ten-minute misconduct penalty for abuse of an official, leaving the Steelers with three defenceman for ten minutes.
Devils Player/Coach Gerad Adams opted in giving backup netminder Joe Myers some ice time, as both teams were through to the latter stages of the Challenge Cup.
The young Welsh netminder was beat early on after a fortuitous deflection off Mark Richardson’s skate, with Steelers defenceman Drew Fata claiming the goal at 34:00 making it 3-2.
Once again Devils Captain Stuart MacRae levelled the game as he snuck in back post on the right wing and fired low past John DeCaro making it 3-3 at 37:40.
The period was all but done, and with nine second remaining the Devils took the lead for the first time in the game with a Tyson Marsh blast from the point at 39:51 to make it 4-3 in the Devils favour.
The Devils soon added to their tally with former Steeler Phil Hill giving the hosts a two-goal lead after a nice deke around DeCaro, with assists going to MacRae and Josh Batch at 44:06.
The Steelers were determined to not give up, and pulled a goal back courtesy of a Jason Hewitt slapshot from the neutral zone beating Myers at 44:21, with the young shot stopper probably wanting that one back.
The Steelers pressed and had a much stronger third period, and were soon on level terms thanks to the in-form Shawn Limpright who was on hand to tap home a rebound after an initial Jeff Legue shot at 53:09 making it 5-5.
The South Yorkshire side were back in front at 54:21 when Glaswegian Colin Shields netted a neat top shelf wristshot from the top of the left circle to beat Myers, to make it 6-5.
With just 61 seconds of the game remaining Stuart MacRae completed his hattrick after he netted on his own rebound to ensure that the game would be settled in extra time, at the Cardiff Arena.
Both teams shared chances in Overtime, with the Steelers coming close through Shields, only to be denied by 25-year-old Cardiff boy Joe Myers with an impressive save.
The game was to be decided by the always thrilling spectacle of penalty shots. Myers was earning the plaudits with some impressive saves to deny Shawn Limpright and Jeff Legue.
Chris Blight had the opportunity to seal the win for the Devils, and he didn’t disappoint as his effort beat John DeCaro to lift the roof off the ‘Big Blue Tent’ giving his team the extra point and a 7-6 victory.
Steelers Head coach Ryan Finnerty spoke about the weekends results, “A little like Saturday evening, we are disappointed not to have taken all the points. We feel we had the chances to have done that. The point is a most valuable one, we want to finish top of our group, and we feel that makes a statement,” Finnerty said. “We need one more in Coventry next Saturday to cement that top spot. We said from day 1 that the Challenge Cup was a priority and it remains that way,” Finnerty added.
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